Rebuilding Trust, the Currency of an Open Economy and Society — #OpenBadges, #badgechain

As I was looking for documentation for this post, the top result from Google was a link to “Rachel Botsman: The currency of the new economy is trust” (link) followed by an OECD forum with a highlight on “Trust is at the heart of today’s complex global economy.”

While Botsman’s lecture, punctuated with examples of the emerging collaborative economy, is worth viewing, what I challenge is the idea that trust is a new currency or that trust is more important in today’s economy than it was in previous ones. With the exception of war and predatory economies, trust has always been at the very centre of the economy. If something has changed in the economy it is how globalisation has affected trust, its currency.

Trust is at the heart of the economy — and open societies!

In Adam Smith on Trust, Faith and Free Markets (link) Jerry Evensky writes:

In a constructive society, trust and security are based on mutual respect among citizens and between the citizen and the State. It is the maturation of the citizen and of the State together that makes the emergence of a commercial free-market society possible. It is the trust engendered by this maturation of civic ethics and institutions that makes it possible for individuals to enter the market system with confidence that the competition will be a game played by just rules.
When trust is shaken, individuals pull back and the system contracts. Where trust grows, individual energy and creativity are unleashed and the system grows. In Smith’s vision of humankind’s progress, trust is the central theme.

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Valuing human capital and social capital doesn’t need “pretty pictures” — #OpenBadges #ePortfolios #blockchains #ledgers

In 2016, Open Badges will encounter blockchains and this will most likely change the way we issue, store and exploit Open Badges and open credentials. This change will also affect Open Badges themselves, or more precisely, we will have a chance to get rid of the dictatorship of the “pretty picture” and move beyond the narratives of the girl and boy scouts’ merit badges.

Open Badges are wonderful and it was a brilliant idea to store metadata within a picture, but let’s face it, there is a time, in fact many of them, where designing a “pretty picture” to recognise one’s achievements or competencies is simply a waste of time or a hindrance — and the use of pre-digested graphics often an insult to our sense of aesthetics! We have now reached the situation where it is the tail wagging the dog: the “pretty picture” is the “need to have” in order to issue any credential in the happy world of Open Badges. No “pretty picture”, no credential! Does it have to be so?


Moving the Open Badge movement from infancy to adulthood needs new metaphors and narratives — the badge for the girl and boy scouts. It is precisely what the blockchain technology is offering. The metaphor on which the blockchain narrative is constructed is the ledger, a word everybody can understand.

A general ledger account is an account or record used to sort and store balance sheet and income statement transactions. Examples of general ledger accounts include the asset accounts such as Cash, Accounts Receivable, Inventory, Investments, Land, and Equipment.

A Personal Ledger is a means to account for one’s assets, credits and debts. In the context of open credentials, the credentials received can be considered as debts (one is indebted to someone for the trust received) and the credentials given as credits (the recipient of our trust is indebted to us). A ledger can be further subdivided into multiple accounts, so each entry could store the information contained today in various Open Badges.

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#blockchains vs #OpenBadges (“blocks without chains”)

Last Thursday, as I attended a meeting at the old Paris stock exchange (palais Brogniard) with people working on blockchains to discuss the Open Badge Passport, what did I discover? A number of the ideas we wanted to develop with the Open Badge Passport (as services exploiting the content of badges metadata) were already in full development using… blockchains, not Open Badges. That was some reality check! The following morning I read Certificates, Reputation, and the Blockchain (link) where Philipp Schmidt, from the MIT Media Lab, explains how they are moving from paper certificates to blockchains after a short encounter with digital badges…

Issuing a certificate is relatively simple: we create a digital file that contains some basic information such as the name of the recipient, the name of the issuer (MIT Media Lab), an issue date, etc. We then sign the contents of the certificate using a private key to which only the Media Lab has access, and append that signature to the certificate itself. Next we create a hash, which is a short string that can be used to verify that nobody has tampered with the content of the certificate. And finally we use our private key again to create a record on the Bitcoin blockchain that states we issued a certain certificate to a certain person on a certain date. Our system makes it possible to verify who a certificate was issued to, by whom, and validate the content of the certificate itself.

Suddenly Open Badges seemed to have regressed from a technology that could conquer the world to a parochial technology solely at the service of the great priests of education spraying badges like papal indulgences so their parishioners could join the heaven of employment… one day… if their prayed with enough fervour. Continue reading

#OpenBadges: “micro-credentials” vs. “progressive-credentials”

I had a great talk this week with my friend Don Presant (@donpresant) and when I reacted (negatively) to the expression “micro-credentials,” in return he suggested “progressive credentials,” an expression that I immediately fully embraced.

What can go wrong with “micro-credentials”?

There is a priori nothing wrong with issuing “micro-credentials” but that should not be the alpha and omega of Open Badges. Open Badges are credentials and credentials can be small and big. They can be used to hold micro- or macro-credentials, from the acknowledgment of participating in an event, to the delivery of a full qualification or diploma. An Open Badge is just one of the possible vessels for delivering, storing and exploiting credentials, micro or macro. Using Open Badges to encapsulate diplomas (macro-credentials) makes them verifiable digitally, so it’s probably a good idea to use them for that purpose. But Open Badges are not limited to do in small (“micro-certificates”) what others do in big (diplomas), they also have the potential to challenge existing credentialing authorities… Continue reading

What relationship between #OpenBadges and competencies?

Recent posts by Timothy Freeman Cook (@timothyfcook) explored (here and there) the relationship between Open Badges and competencies.  I would like to build on Timothy’s ideas.

I have rearranged in a table the initial elements of what Timothy calls “the atomic elements of learning”:

 Atom  Equivalent Definition  Learner’s perspective
Competencies Standards Definition of learning one ought to acquire What should I learn?
Pathways Courses Relationships between learnings In what order should I learn?
 Badges Credentials Proof of a learning accomplishment Did I learn it? 
 Resources Opportunities Something one can use for a learning experience  How can I learn it?

For Timothy:

The more I sketch and dwell on it, the more I am convinced that the concept of the pathway is actually something that should apply, separately, to each of the 3 elements.  […]

The 3 primary elements are:

  1. Competency
  2. Credential
  3. Resource

and each of these can be expressed on a graph with a linear or non-learner ordering or nested relationships. […] A competency graph is a prerequisite structure.

While later in the post is the following definition: “[the] competency graph is a map” I would like to explore now this idea of mapping and graphs.

What are the frameworks of learning?

Good competency standards are designed by performing a functional analysis, i.e. the analysis of all the activities contributing to achieving the purpose/mission of a sector (e.g. automotive, hotel & catering industry) or domain (e.g. management, administration, sales, engineering). The functional analysis is a mapping exercise, just like explorers drew maps of unchartered territories. Functional analysis takes into account all the activities, from the most basic (e.g. feed-in a copy machine) to the most complex (managing finance). The outcome is a competency framework.

Unfortunately, very few competency standards are built this way. Most of them are the result of task analysis leading to a fragmented representation of the territory. Moreover there is often a confusion between competencyqualification and training frameworks.

When a competency framework is produced, there is not yet an indication that a certain competency is at level 1 or 8 (there are 8 levels in the European Qualification Framework, link) nor that one competency must be acquired before another. The attribution of levels to the different competencies is based on the spectrum of routine/unpredictable tasks, basic/complex required knowledge, the degree of responsibility for oneself and others, etc. The result is a qualification framework. The organisation of competencies through prerequisites leads to a training framework.

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For an #OpenBadges Conceptual Framework (green paper)

Why an Open Badge Framework?

The objective of this document is to provide a conceptual framework for understanding what Open Badges are, where do they come from, what they could become in the future and how they relate to other concepts and initiatives. This framework does not pretend and does not intend to be neutral. It is designed within the perspective of building an open and inclusive society where the citizens are fully empowered to act and transform education and employment, rather than merely adapt to them. It is a framework for action, individual and collective.

The Open Badge Conceptual Framework is situated within a larger frame of reference that includes concepts, ideas and initiatives that, while not directly related to Open Badges, share a number of their characteristics (e.g. Open Data). It is also aimed at debunking some of the misconceptions associated with Open Badges, e.g. their relation to gamification or the behaviourist theories leading to using Open Badges as rewards.

Open Badges for an Open Society

Open Badges for an Open Society

The framework explores how Open Badges exist in relation to the milieu where they are created and exploited. In the picture above, we have tried to represent how the different components of an open society relate to each other and what the place of Open Badges is. In the following chapters we will explore the polymorphic properties of Open Badges that are at the same time objects that contain pieces of knowledge, connect such pieces and constitute the elementary blocks of what can be qualified as a native open trust network.

What is a conceptual framework?

Although there are different understandings of what a conceptual framework is, the definition we will use for this document is:

  • A conceptual framework is an analytical tool used to make conceptual distinctions and organise ideas.

The following nota bene is an example of making such conceptual distinctions:

NB: in this document we will prefer the expression badge holder, to badge earner. The later tends to convey the misconception that someone has to ‘earn’ a badge, while it is perfectly legitimate to self-issue a badge and in that case, it is the endorsements that can be earned, not the badge itself.

What is its structure?

The first two chapters of this document are focused on the description of Open Badges, as digital artefacts, then on the description of the ecosystems where those artefacts are produced, live and are exploited. Special attention will be drawn to the issue of identity construction and the role Open Badges can play, in particular through creating the conditions for the emergence of holographic identities.

The penultimate chapter explores in more detail the value of Open Badges, while the final chapter suggests possible paths for future developments.

Table of contents



Why an Open Badge Framework?      2

What is its structure?      3

Open Badges as Digital Artefacts

What does Open mean?      4

What are Badges?      4

Open Badges as connectors      5

Open Badges as meaning      6

Open Badge Misconceptions      6

The Genesis of Open Badges      7

Do we need an Open Badge taxonomy?      10

Open Badges in their Ecosystems

Micro level: individuals      12

Meso level: institutions, organisations and communities      13

Macro level: society, policies, standards, social values, globalisation      15

Open Badges as a trust ecosystem      15

Open Badges as a power ecosystem      16

The initial design flaws of the Open Badge Infrastructure      19

The value of Open Badges

Celebrating the badge refuseniks      20

Badges value is prismatic      20

Why issue (or not) Open Badges?      22

Recognition & accreditation      22

Establishing Pathways      22

Plan and project      22

State and declare      22

Etc.      22

Open Badges Futures

The ‘dynamic’ badges      23

The ‘smart’ badges: badges as agents      23

The ‘smart’ infrastructure      23

More at:

You are welcome to contribute and criticise this document. It’s a green paper, so it is meant to trigger discussions!

#OpenBadges – Micro-credentials: what can we learn from micro-credits?

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Are micro-credentials a disruptive innovation, just as micro-credits (micro-loans) were thought to be a few years ago? To answer this question we should first find out what can be qualified as a disruptive innovation? According to Wikipedia:

A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.

Open Badges are creating a new market, the market of Open Credentials (micro-credentials are just one type of Open Credentials) and establishing a new currency, or more precisely reinvigorating one of the oldest currencies ever: trust.

Trust has many properties. First, it’s free and when offered, it enriches both the giver and the recipient. And when the recipients of trust get richer (with trust), their increased wealth can trickle back to those who initiallyoffered their trust. While it might still need the philosophers’ stone (link) to be transmuted into gold, trust can nevertheless be transformed into real cash as one experiences when applying for a loan. Con artists and banks* also know how to make cash out of trust!

For the poorest, things are different. One of the few assets they cannot be totally deprived of is trust. Thanks to the Nobel Prize winning Grameen Bank (link) founded by Muhammad Yunus, they now have the power to convert trust into micro-loans.

Grameen Bank is owned by the borrowers and it is based on trust. It does not require any collateral from its borrowers. Since the bank does not wish to take any borrower to the court of law in case of non-repayment, it does not require the borrowers to sign any legal instrument.

Were micro-credits transformative?

What lessons could the Open Badge practitioners learn from the Grameen Bank and the many micro-credit organisations that have been spawned since its creation? Can we draw a parallel between micro-credits and micro-credentials in terms of empowerment and potential social transformation? Could Open Badges create the conditions for the emergence of a new economy?

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